Bruckner's 8th is my favorite Bruckner Symphony. Furtwängler's Bruckner is just awesome. No one imbues it with the cathedral-like architecture as he. The listening experience is always a deeply moving one. Other conductors may be good, but do not scale the heights he does.
This particular 8th Symphony is one of two in my collection; the other is from the 1949 broadcast issued on Testament 1143. Perhaps it was the era, but his performances during the war have an intensity to them that is not there after it. This is reflected in the timings among other things. For example, this 1944 performance is almost three minutes faster than in 1949. The latter performances are not slack by any means but in 1944 he swept into the phrases with more urgency. Comparing the two I also learned something about tempi. When you start a piece of music at a given tempo the changes from one speed to another must come naturally from the opening one. To start The Fifth off at a clip and then drop dramatically would sound not only weird but also somehow wrong. Furtwängler will shift the tempo significantly but still within the shadow of the initial tempo. The result, heard more in 1944, adds significantly to the appreciation. Add to that the difference in sound as another possible factor in my preference. Testament has a tendency to minimize reverb and deaccentuate (I just made up that word) the bass line. The Archipel recording sounds warmer and richer by comparison.
You may have heard about the 1944 8th but not found it since the only other source I know of is on Classica D'Oro 1031. I got a review copy from them and listened to it a few times. I never was able to sit through it, however, because of a high-pitched, almost inaudible hum that made me nuts. I wondered if it was in the original or just something to do with the Classica D'Oro remastering process. I tried to see if I could get a copy from Music and Arts but got no reply from Fred Maroth. The Classica has more detail but that doesn't matter if you can't listen to it. Then I came across this set in the HBDirect catalogue. So, given the reasonable price, I ordered it. The fact is that Archipel has produced a better sounding recording., The Classica has more detail but that doesn't matter if you can't listen to it. Archipel's sound is fuller, as in the Testament recording mentioned above, there is more reverb which means more air around the music. Some people may feel it sounds a bit muddy but my ear soon adjusts to that phenomenon and it doesn't depreciate my appreciation of this recording a whit.
Then we have the Bruckner 9th for good measure. Furtwängler made no performances of Bruckner's 9th after the war. Go figure. There is one other recording of this 9th on Fred Maroth's Music and Arts label. Doing some A/B comparison of the two recordings I can report there is a slight improvement this time. Archipel's (I wish I could find out more about these people… their work is better than Classica D'Oro) disc sounds like their source was perhaps a step closer to the original. It doesn't mean that they are from the Nazi tapes of broadcasts, that is another review I wrote. It may be that they have just worked from the same source as M&a but made changes. All I know is that the Archipel sound is slightly more detailed and the bass line is firmer.
I try to report my findings in context with other recordings, and when possible, other conductors. In the case of Bruckner, however, the various and very different versions around in the 40s makes any such contextual analysis damn near impossible. Add to that the fact that as far as I know the only source for performances of any Bruckner at this time is from the Nazi tapes of the broadcasts. The answer is that a Furtwängler recording of any Bruckner, especially from the 40s, is in a class of its own. It is damn good for us that Furtwängler was damn good.
So, if you don't have these recordings you should if you are a serious lover of classical music. The price is also good (about $11 per disc compared to $17 for the single disc Classica.)
Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II